History is defined as the study of past events. In the paper, I would like to analyse the influence that Ancient Greek civilisation – being its culture as well as the ways of its society and life - has had on Western civilisation.
The influence and contributions of Ancient Greece have played an important role in history as well as the evolution of civilisation since. This has carried forth to the extent where much of Ancient Greek culture has been considered as having hand in setting the framework of western civilisation.
The reason I have selected this area to research is because of the vast influence Ancient Greece has had on many areas of Western civilisation and culture; such as architecture, politics, mathematics, science and popular culture.
Influence of Ancient Greece can be found in many elements of Western culture; from the structure of important buildings in North America and Europe mirroring those of structures like temples built by the Greek in that period.
Myths and legends are also seen as having major influences on certain aspects of Western society, such as the company Versace having their logo as the head of Medusa. Or the logo of the coffee company Starbucks being a siren.
There were also famous historic figures from Ancient Greece who have played an important part in advancing science and mathematics; such as Archimedes, who is known for discovering the principle for buoyancy – more famously known as ‘Archimedes’ principle’ – which is nowadays used in the designing of ships and submarines.
When it comes to architecture, it can be said that Ancient Greece had its influence on the medium both directly as well as indirectly.
Direct influence came about in early 19th century, with the architectural style being referred to as ‘Greek Revival’. It had become a dominant architectural style in the United States of America during the first half of the 1800s, and had resulted in being referred to as the country’s national style due to how favoured it had become. It can be said that what helped make this style of architecture as popular and gain dominance was the Parthenon in Athens becoming recognised as an important monument in the world.
The First Bank of the United States located in Philadelphia, PA and The British Museum in Bloomsbury, London or two famous examples of the implementation of Greek Revival architecture in the Western World.
However, before this direct influence came about, there were a few periods of time where the indirect influence of Greek architecture was spreading throughout the West.
Architectural styles in the Renaissance period and Neo-classical period in Europe can be seen to have elements of Greek architectural styles; which the Romans had incorporated into their own architecture prior to influencing the former two between 16th to 18th century.
San Pietro in Montorio located in Rome, Italy and Saint Peter’s Basilica located in Vatican City, Italy can be taken as two examples of buildings from the Renaissance period built with Greek architectural influence - the Doric Order colonnade, which was one of the initial styles of classical architecture that set standards of strength and beauty for European architecture.
Similarly, buildings from the Neo-classical period also hold elements of Ancient Greek architecture. The La Madeleine, for example, located in Paris, France has Corinthian columns that frame its exterior. There is also its pediment – which is the triangular section at the very top that is usually filled with a sculpture raised from its background. The Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand also holds such elements; such as its fluted Doric columns and decorative frieze which consists of over a hundred panels, inspired by the Parthenon’s own continuous frieze.
Two more architecture styles with Greek influence, found primarily in the United States, are the Federal Style of architecture and Beaux-Arts architecture.
Between the period of the late 1700s and early 1800s was when the Federal Style came into existence; the founders of the United States of America had made the decision that key or significant buildings were to be modelled after those of Ancient Greece. The University of Virginia located in Charlottesville, Virginia was designed in this style.
The Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts in French) architecture ascended to becoming a popular style of architecture in the United States of America between the late 19th century and early 20th century. Buildings like Elks National Memorial and Headquarters located in Chicago, Illinois.
The people of Ancient Greece also had a major contribution in the creation of the system of government that are widely used today.
For example, the concept of democracy itself came into existence in the 5th century in Athens; where the system of ruling had changed from a monarch regime to a system where continuous engagement and contribution of citizens was required. Examples of current democratic state can be Norway.
Other than democracy – which was the rule of the people (or the male population of the city in Ancient Greek times) – other common systems of Greek government that exist to this day are:
· Monarchy – where there is a sole ruler inheriting their position,
· Oligarchy – where the state is ruled by a selected number of people,
· Tyranny – an individual who comes into power of a state through illegitimate means,
It was the Greeks who also developed the jury system as a system for democratic societies. In the jury system, law-offenders were judged for their crimes by their peers. Though nowadays a typical jury in court holds 12 people, in Ancient Greece the convicted would be judged by the entire assembly present.
In the fields of mathematics and science, there are many theories and concepts, used on a near-daily basis around the world, that were originally discovered by Ancient Greek philosophers. The following are some of the many scientists who have made discoveries that have created a framework for current-day scientific research:
· Thales of Miletus – he is credited with the discovery of mathematical theorems, such as a circle’s diameter being used as its bisector; the intersection of two lines leading to the opposite angles being equivalent to one another; and, the theorem named after him, that states that any given angle found within a semicircle is to be of 90 degrees.
· Pythagoras of Samos – he is known for developing the concept of numbers holding significance in trying to understand the natural world and its workings.
· Euclid (Eukleides) of Alexandria – he has made enough significant discoveries to be referred to as one of the world’s most important mathematicians. He has written books regarding concepts of geometry, algebra and number theory that are still used to this day.
· Hippocrates of Cos – referred to as the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates has been credited with many discoveries, such as understanding that illnesses and diseases had scientific causes rather than being punishments from the Gods or influence of evil; he invented the concept of clinical medicine; and, for creating the physician’s oath – named after him – that is still taken today by those entering the medical field as practitioners.
Lastly, Greek mythology exists in many parts of current Western culture. From the branding of businesses to inspiration in modern-day movies and literature, this aspect of Ancient Greece remains heavily influential in today’s day and age.
Greek myths, in theory, are simply stories based on and around interactions between mortals and the Greek gods. Whilst many tales often had tragic endings, some stories also ended happily.
While these could easily be taken as another form of entertainment the Greeks occupied themselves with, it can be said that the reason Greek myths remain popular to this day as they carry in them morals and even warnings that can perhaps be related to even now. These myths spoke of how hubris often led to a person’s downfall, and how even the greatest heroes or the most powerful of immortals could have flaws within them.
For example, elements of the myth of Eros and Psyche can be found in various popular stories of today, such as Beauty and the Beast or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There are also popular phrases used to this day that were inspired by the core elements of their myths.
Take the term ‘Achilles’ Heel’ for example; referring to the story of the Greek hero Achilles, who was dipped into the River Styx – the river that forms a boundary between the world of the living and the underworld - as an infant for him to gain invulnerability. His heel, however, was the only part of his body which did not touch the water as that was where he was held from. As the story goes, he eventually met his death after being struck by a poisoned arrow in that very heel.
Nowadays, the term is used as a means of describing an obvious weakness even in strength, and how it can result in one’s ruin.
Another example here can be the term ‘Pandora’s Box’. Though, in the original tale, the actual object left in Pandora’s care is a jar, the moral of the ancient myth remains relevant to this day. The story of Pandora goes on to tell how the king of the Gods and Sky, Zeus, had gifted the jar to her but warned her not to open it. Pandora’s resulting curiousity led to the world almost meeting its downfall as out of the jar escaped evils like disease, sadness, poverty and death. However, Pandora had been able to seal the jar shut before hope could escape.
In modern use of the term, Pandora’s Box is used in conversations where interfering with the topic in question can bring about more negative results than positive.
To conclude, from the information I gathered and referenced in this paper, I believe it is clear the extent to which elements of Ancient Greece’s culture and workings have trickled down into the framework of Western civilisation. Whether it be aspects taken through several cultures that initially hold Greek origins, or features directly inspired by the Greeks themselves.
Though it is the combination of several countries’ cultures and histories that come all together to shape the entirety of Western civilisation, it is clear that – as one of the earliest of the world’s civilisations – Ancient Greece still stands as a model on its own that is worth gathering inspiration from.
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